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Progress 2020: How Auburn's historic and cultural sites work together
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Progress 2020: How Auburn's historic and cultural sites work together

From the Collaborative Cayuga: Read all six Progress 2020 section articles series

In March, representatives of four historic and cultural sites in Auburn will present at the Museum Association of New York's annual conference.

The theme of this year's conference? Partnership. 

Additionally, three of those sites were recognized in December with a Preservation Merit Award from the Preservation Association of Central New York. 

What were they awarded for? Partnership.

So it's fair to say Auburn's historic and cultural sites know a thing or two on the subject of partnership.

Last summer, the Cayuga Museum of History & Art, Seward House Museum and Harriet Tubman National Historical Park partnered to present a new week-long Hands-on History Camp for children. It included tours of the museums, archaeological activities at the park and more. The camp earned the three sites their Preservation Merit Award, and their partnership with each other and other sites in Auburn led them and the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center to submit their successful proposal for a presentation at the Museum Association conference. 

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If the award and the upcoming presentation to statewide peers weren't enough indication the Auburn sites succeeded with their partnership, there's also the fact that the camp will return this summer for not one, but two weeks. Cayuga Museum Executive Director Kirsten Wise said sessions will be held in July and August to accommodate more children because the camp was so popular.

Wise currently chairs the primary mechanism for partnership between Auburn's historic and cultural sites: the city Historic & Cultural Sites Commission. It meets every other month, and members share what's new at their sites. Since opening in fall 2018, the heritage center has become a hub for the commission, making communication between members even easier, Wise said.

Whether it's through the commission or any other form of communication, Auburn's historic and cultural sites are working together better today than any other time Wise can recall, she said.

"I've seen a lot of positive growth in the commission in the last few years specifically," she said. 

Through partnership, Wise explained, Auburn's historic and cultural sites can share resources and knowledge. The Cayuga Museum, for instance, began working more closely with the Seward House in 2015 to present a joint exhibit, "Untold Stories: Treasures from the Seward Family Collection." That led to a series of walking tours through downtown Auburn and other events, Wise said.

Communication between the sites also helps them avoid programming events against each other. Wise said local sites are still looking for a way to ensure that never happens, such as a master calendar they all share, but regular communication works well so far. The commission is also exploring shared ticketing, so that admission to one site entails admission to another, Wise said.

With those challenges on the horizon, Auburn's historic and cultural sites are looking forward to an eventful 2020. Last year's inaugural Harriet Tubman Day at the heritage center will grow into programming at several sites in the city this March, Wise said, much like the annual Holiday Traditions event in December. Meanwhile, the Cayuga Museum also continues working with the Schweinfurth Art Center on the West End Campus project to link the neighboring sites with signage and new landscaping. Wise hopes to be working with firms on drawings by this summer, she said.

"There are so many different arts and cultural sites here, and so many exciting things to offer," she said. "It's a good problem to have." 

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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